I wanted to talk today about low thyroid – hypothyroidism - and the hidden signs that you may have that indicate that your thyroid is not working properly. Now there's no one sign that absolutely points to low thyroid, although possibly the one that stands out above all is a low body temperature which you can measure that with a digital thermometer. Anything that's less than a degree below what you should have (37.3C/ 98.6F), might indicate that your metabolism is running slow. Because that's what your thyroid does - it runs your metabolic processes, it's all about producing heat as a result of your metabolism. Therefore if your body temperature is low, it suggests that the thyroid hormone is not working or not being produced properly; it's either not being produced enough (true hypothyroidism) or it's actually not being converted in the right way (functional hypothyroidism).
You've got you've got two thyroid hormones in the body: T4 and T3 and it's the T3 that actually does the work, that is the result of the conversion of T4 into an active molecule by the loss of an iodine molecule (so iodine is absolutely essential to good thyroid function which most people are deficient in as soil iodine has been in decline for years through industrial agriculture. However, it's not as simple as adding extra iodine as we'll see below.
So the signs are:
1. Swelling: a puffy face especially under the eyes swollen tongue (you can see tooth marks on the sides) difficulty getting rings onto fingers in the morning is another cardinal sign. Eyelid swelling or drooping eyelids so it's difficult for you to open your eyes easily in the morning.
2. Eyes: they can get red and irritated, visual disturbances sometimes a sort of flickery nature, excessive ‘sleep’ (the stuff that collects in the corner of your eye when you wake up) and a condition called blepharitis which is where your eyelids are quite swollen (caused by blocked tear ducts as oils are very dependent on temperature as you might know from say coconut oil). Cataracts (although that’s also linked to age and low antioxidants in the eye) and glaucoma, so anything that’s kind of affecting the visual clarity of the eye.
3. Fatigue – not surprisingly if your metabolism isn’t working well then nothing functions: all your enzymes need the right body temperature to work well so your energy will be affected and you will feel tired all the time without restful sleep.
4. Nails: brittle nails, losing the half-moon at the base of the nail, and having vertical ridges - you can feel them when you run your fingers over them.
5. Cold hands and feet - really common but for people who've got low thyroid this is all the time it, it's almost independent of outdoor temperature although it's worse in winter
6. Diminished perspiration - you can't sweat easily, even in a sauna (this can be treated when you start to replace some of the missing minerals and vitamins and the more saunas you do the more encourage your body to learn to sweat).
7. Hot flushes and excess body heat (somewhat contradictory but it’s all part of the loss of temperature regulation). We tend to mix that up with menopause for women which is just a normal part of transition to later life, but it's made so much worse if your thyroid is low.
8. Mental effects include depression, nervousness, irritability - manic behaviour and memory disturbances plus a strange one - Morgellons syndrome - a feeling of insects crawling under your skin.
9. Infertility and menstrual problems for women and hormonal issues - hormones are not just a linear sequence they operate as a web or interactivity with to checks and balances, so if one hormone goes out it shifts all the others.
10. Constipation: difficulty with actually going to the toilet is another really common one - everything gets sluggish and slow so low thyroid will affect your gut in that way.
11. Throat - swallowing difficulties - linked in with the neurological energy deficit of important nerves like the vagus nerve which innervates all around the head and neck and your voice may become hoarse, and slowness of speech - you can't get your words out
12. Skin: dry skin (particularly on the elbows and knees), eczema, psoriasis and lots of moles and warts. Fungal infections particularly the big toenail - you need energy to run your immune system and if your immunity is low (especially if you have chronic stress) warts, veruccas and moles will appear.
13. Blood sugar regulation: a high cholesterol (actually doctors measure the numbers of lipoprotein molecules containing cholesterol called HDL and LDL). It’s not always linked to a high sugar diet – your thyroid hormones help the liver to cleanse the blood and lipoproteins are created in the liver so it may make your cholesterol start to creep up even if your diet is fairly good.
14. Blood pressure – either high or low. Insufficient thyroid hormone slows your heart rate but low thyroid can also make your arteries less elastic, so that blood pressure rises in order to circulate blood around the body.
15. Hair loss - this is a very common one – especially in women, men of course it's more likely through just that normal balding pattern, but if your hair starts to thin and recede and you’re female look to thyroid as a possible cause. Also the outer edge of your of your eyebrows and eyelash loss too. Dry hair generally (loss of secretion of oils in for the same reason that I’ve already explained with eyelids).
16. Muscle weakness or spasms - people tend to think that's just down to low magnesium and magnesium is definitely implicated to give you what we call cramp but your thyroid is absolutely part of that story as well.
17. Unexpected weight gain - over a period without changing your diet – you are not burning off the carbohydrates and fats you are ingesting - it's an indicator that your metabolism isn't running properly.
18. Teeth and oral health e.g. sensitivity, particularly after dental treatment, or generally just with cold and hot drinks. Enlarged gums - are your gums swollen do they bleed a lot? This is typical.
19. TMJ - temporomandibular joint pain (links kind of the upper to the lower part of your jaw and can get very tight and sore causing a lot of aching and pain (grinding your teeth at night is a typical sign your body is trying to relieve the tightness).
20. Ears: excessive ear wax for reasons as above – it isn’t so fluid at low temperatures so will tend to build up and block the ears causing deafness and tinnitus (there are other reasons for tinnitus such as tight muscles in the face an neck so tinnitus is also common). And vestibular function (balance) e.g. a tendency to fall over or walk awkwardly.
If you have more than 4 or 5 of these symptoms then it is time to get your thyroid function checked. However, if you go to a doctor you'll get a very standard measurement of your thyroid function with a measurement of your TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels produced by your pituitary gland which tells you nothing about why your thyroid is malfunctioning. If the TSH is high it indicates that the pituitary, which is linked to your thyroid, from your hypothalamus, (the HPT axis) is not functioning well, so the pituitary has to work so much harder to kick the thyroid into action. The value should ideally be under two (<2) but is often elevated (5+ is cause for concern) and the standard medical answer is to give you extra thyroid hormone as a synthetic thyroxine either Levothyroxine or Synthroid which isn't a natural thyroid hormone, it isn't recognized by the body as a natural thyroid hormone. It will function similarly but it doesn't have all the information content that natural thyroid hormone has and because it's a version of T4 and not T3, if your body isn't converting properly, it won't do much apart from maybe give your heart palpitations and make you feel very agitated!
So for many people (including me) synthetic thyroid hormone is not the answer and you need help your body convert properly so supplementation with B2, B3, B12, selenium, zinc, magnesium, (sometimes extra iodine in helpful but not always)1. Be aware that no one of these indicates on its own thyroid dysfunction, it's the combination of course. So they are what we call necessary but not sufficient. So it is it's about building the symptom picture.
If you find that this chimes with you in any way and that you might be considering that you have low thyroid, first of all check your body temperature – anything under 37C is potentially an issue and secondly go and find a nutritional therapist or a holistic practitioner because they'll be able to do proper testing for you which your GP will not be able to do. Also, a good naturopath2 will generally have better solutions in the longer term because they work with the body's own natural healing mechanisms rather than just the symptom.
If you are interested in more of the holistic aspects of thyroid function which include kind of stress function, the relationship with your life purpose that's something I do deal with in my YouTube videos. Anyhow, trust that you can get some relief and do something about it.
1. Healing your Thyroid Naturally by Emily Lipinski
2. The Thyroid Connection by Amy Myers